Written by Therese Sundell | Sweden
on January 30, 2020

People often ask what makes marketing to scientists different from marketing in other industries. While you don't necessarily need to have a PhD (though it might help in some cases), understanding some basic ideas about what scientists and life science audiences expect from you will go a long way. Here, UP member and experienced life science marketer Therese Sundell, provides some insights.

Insights from the trenches: marketing to life scientists

Scientists are trained to be fact-oriented, and in many cases tend to be almost skeptical by nature, so marketing to this group can be especially challenging. You always need to be prepared to have proof of any claims you make and be able to provide additional facts and explanations if questioned. From more than twenty years of marketing to life science customers, I've come across many situations and made some observations that I would like to highlight to help you in this interesting, challenging and fun area of marketing.

Here are six learnings that I hope will help you be successful in marketing to scientists.

1. Develop a target persona.

You’ve probably heard it before, but understanding your target audience will make the difference between mediocre marketing and stellar content. I’ve seen this first hand. Understanding who your audience are as people instead of just having a vague idea of a target market enables you to create marketing content that will be well received and considered. Most likely you have several different personas among your customers. Think of them as individuals and differentiate them into groups.

Tip: First create an imaginary persona as a representative of each group and then decide who you want to address, so you can really get a picture of who you are communicating with. What is important to this specific persona? When you know who you are addressing, communicate “with” this persona, addressing your message directly to them, rather than writing for them.

It actually helps if you give your personas names and create a background for each one of them. This first learning of course is not specific to the life science area, but nevertheless it is the most important thing to keep in mind before you start with any new project.

How I learned this: Over the years, I've seen a number of great companies with outstanding products that based their marketing communications on what the product design team thought were cutting edge features. The most successful ones, eventually,  turned this around and asked their customers why the products mattered. Then, they were able to take their communications to a new level.  Instead of a creating marketing campaigns that would appeal to "everyone," they focused on the key benefits to their most attractive target audience. 

2. Create content with scientific credibility

Like most scientists, your target persona probably respects and enjoys interacting with other scientists. In order to gain trust from a scientist, a good rule of thumb is to be truthful and honest and to show appreciation for their scientific knowledge and experience.

Most scientists like to discuss science, their own as well as others’. So, speak about science, share your findings and show interest for what they are doing. Listen to what they need, and offer your help and advice when you can. Utilize the competence within your organization to create content such as articles, blogs and white papers that share your knowledge (not just product information) that will help your target persona.

Tip: If you are addressing a neuroscientist or a cancer researcher, bring a colleague from R&D with a matching profile on-board to consult on the project. If you can’t help or your company doesn't offer the right resources to support the customer properly, but you know someone else who you think might be able to, be generous and direct them to this other source. It may not help you with your sales today, but it gives you credibility that will work for you in the long run.

Chances are that they will remember you and will come back to you next time they need help. Only when they have expressed interest in learning about your products, should you try to sell to them.

UP marketing life science insights

Marketing to scientists, like marketing in many other areas, means understanding your target audience and speaking to them on their level, in a way that communicates genuine desire to meet their needs.

How I learned this: I have seen scientists glow with interest when they have gotten the opportunity to talk to someone with deep knowledge of their field. They have so many questions and in such depth that, in many cases, a sales or marketing representative does not have deep enough knowledge to satisfy their detailed curiosity. If you have colleagues who do possess this deep knowledge, bring them on! This brings true credibility to your company and the brand.

Read more: How to create a successful life science blog for your business

3. Ensure brand consistency

Be loyal to your brand and make sure you walk the talk. Saying one thing in your marketing campaigns and behaving in another way with customer interactions can quickly result in lost trust, and this can be very difficult to repair. Reflect upon your brand. What does it stand for? What do your customers associate your brand with? What does it take to live up to your promise?

Think of all the channels and interactions you have with customers, employees, colleagues and other parties. Is your communication consistent? Do your products or services meet the standards of your communication? Do your interactions with customers, whether face to face or through customer and technical support channels, harmonize with your marketing communications?

Tip: If you cannot honestly say yes to these questions, you should make adjustments. Remember, trust is key, for marketing in general, and even more so for your scientist personas.

How I learned this: I've seen situations where companies communicated about quality, but denied compensation for disappointed customers who didn’t think the products met their expectations. I saw how this backfired. Again, it is important to listen to the customer and learn what their needs and expectations are and to strive to meet them, or if this is not possible or feasible, give a motivated answer that explains why. Most importantly: respect the customer’s knowledge and do not imply that they are at fault. If you communicate quality, you must live quality, also in after-sales situations.

Read more: What's the essential DNA of life science marketing today?

4. Engage and educate your whole team

Make sure you keep your company's internal and external teams, as well as other collaborators, such as distributors, updated about your marketing plans and campaigns. Explain what the brand stands for, or even better, hold workshops to get all employees involved in defining what the brand represents. Explain the importance of brand consistency and living up to expectations. Inform or involve other departments as well as collaboration partners in your marketing campaigns, new offers or any changes in how you introduce product information.

Tip: When employees and distributors have a deep understanding of how your products work, know what the product benefits and company goals are, and can relate to the brand values, they will be more likely to promote your company and its products, even in casual ways. Your entire team will act as sales people or advocates without even thinking about it.

How I learned this: I have seen many examples of proud employees who feel a sense of ownership in the company brand, act as ambassadors for their company and brand without actually having that intention.  It is wise to utilize this free marketing resource, and the network that comes along with each employee, to further strengthen this natural marketing channel.

5. Make your support team champions

As discussed above, it is important that all employees understand the brand and the products. This is, of course, especially true for the teams who interact the most with customers. Most often in the life science business, this is the technical support team. Therefore, empower your technical support personnel and trust them to help the customers. This can be your best chance to prove how you live up to brand expectations, especially for companies without a sales force of their own.

Tip: A good technical support team can help overcome product limitations or issues, and can lead to a trust in and loyalty to the company, which can be one of the best assets the company has. The support team can be the company’s most important marketing channel.

How I learned this: I have seen thank you letters sent to members of the technical support team so full of gratitude they almost resemble love letters. It is evident that the advice given has helped the customers to solve their problem and that the help truly exceeded their expectations. More than once, a friendly tone developed in these conversations as complicated cases went on over a period of time with quite a few exchanges of ideas, suggestions, and back and forth trials. This trust is a true asset for the company that sometimes is overlooked.

UP blog marketing scientists-2

6. Realize that marketing today is online

Even if we use many different channels to reach our audience, and even if we can look at almost every customer touch-point as marketing, there is no denying that marketing today is – to a very great extent – equal to digital marketing. Again, it is important to think about brand consistency, and remember that anything you communicate online, you must also be able to fulfill in reality. If someone is searching for your product or brand name, what will they find?

Keep in mind that there may, and will, be others communicating about your products and your brand online. They may not only say what you wish them to say. If they are disappointed with your product or your service, they may decide not communicate this to you, but turn directly to the scientific community. Chances are that they are seen as more credible than you. So, even if honesty and consistency has always been important when marketing to scientists, it might be more important today than it has ever been before when so much communication happens instantly, online. If someone is searching on your product or brand name, what will they find?

Tip: Don't overlook the value of incorporating online scientific communities to introduce your science and show the value of your product. By participating in online discussions and creating content that answers important questions or solves problems for scientists (without overtly promoting your products) can make a great impact and help your company become known to a wider audience.

How I learned this: More than once, I have seen life science customers replying with candor in online forums when fellow scientists asked for recommendations or suggestions about using a product. Their words were left on scientific discussion boards for the world to see.

Read more: Three ways life science marketers can engage scientists in the digital age

Life science marketing requires honest communication

So, with these six learnings I hope that I have been able to shine some light on what to think about when marketing to the life science area. In the end, each and every one of us, scientist or not, is a person and an individual who, like most other individuals appreciates honesty and friendliness and who does not like to be cheated. In other words, common sense is a good ingredient, in addition to solid scientific knowledge and proven technology.

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